Sunday, January 15, 2017

A TTs’ Tribute to her Nieces and Nephews

As I stood in the shower with the warm water running off my body, thoughts of my great nephew Elijah who was born on January 11, 2017 came to me. He is the last of my six greats born in the last two years. Elijah is the son of my youngest niece Jasmine. I was in the delivery room with my sister Debra during Jasmine’s birth. Recovering from surgery at the time, I didn’t have anything else to do so I went to the hospital. 

Witnessing her birth is one of my most treasured memories because it is the closet I will ever come to childbirth. You see, I am a childless aunt. I never planned on not having children; it just happened that way. With no children of my own, I poured into my six nieces and three nephews—Rhonda, Sabrina, Steven, Khalilah, LaNita, Racquel, Brandon, Marcus and Jasmine. And I will pour into this new brood, but in a different way. 

In this role since I was two years, it is a title I have worn all of my life. I can’t remember not being a TT, and I have taken my auntie duties seriously trying to be the aunt I think they need me to be. Fiercely protective, I want nothing but the best that life has to offer them. When they hurt, I hurt. When they’re good, I’m good. 

I have tried to be a good aunt. My siblings read to me, and so I read to my nieces and nephews (most of them anyway). They were my constant companions because we are closer in age than I am to my siblings. Before I could drive, I was dragging them around on the bus going to the movies and the museums. We played laser tag and Whirly Ball and went bouncing on trampolines well into my adult years. I am allowed to attend their cousins’ only outings because I am an Honorary Cuzo.

Wanting them to see the best of themselves, I bought books with characters who looked like them. I bought cards and dolls with brown faces. I combed and braided hair. I wanted them to have cultural experiences, so I arranged trips to see Muntu Dance Theater, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and plays. Cultural and ethnic representation was essential.

I gave them advice—even when they didn’t ask for it. Sometimes I pushed; other times I pulled back. I tried to remind them of who they were and was expected of them as a member of our family. Sometimes I judged when I shouldn’t have. I just wanted them to better than me. No matter what, I have tried to be a presence in their lives that they could always count on. I wanted them to know that I was always there if they needed me. 

They are grown, married, and moved away. They have families of their own now. Among them there are six children: Jahari, 20, is Steve’s son. Bryce is Sabrina’s son and he’s 11. Solomon and Luke are Racquel’s twins and they are a year-old. They share a birthday with their cousin Layla. She is Khalilah’s daughter and she’s four weeks old. Bringing up the rear is Elijah who is 4 days old. Rhonda and Brandon live out of town, and Marcus recently moved out on his own. I have enjoyed being who they needed me to be: Steph, TTSteph Nanie, and TiTi/Mama. This TT’s work is done.

Being a great aunt is not the same as being an aunt. There is more space in between. It’s not like being a grandparent because it doesn’t carry the same weight in the world. My nieces and nephews are now the aunts and uncles to their niece and nephews, and they will love fiercely, too. We are a close knit family.

They are all doing well, and I am awed by not only their professional accomplishments but their growth as human beings as well. They are smart, funny, compassionate and just all-around good people. My role in their lives is changing—as it should. I have given them all I have to give. And while I mourn the loss of my evolving role, I rejoice in watching them be parents and aunts and uncles to the next generation.

 I hope that I have left them with something that they will pass on. And so, yes I will step back into the shadow and watch them mold the next generation of greatness. I look forward to a whole new set of experiences with the greats as the legacy continues.
A multitude of emotions swirled inside as I stood in the shower thinking back over the years, weeks and days leading up to Elijah’s entrance into the world. Nostalgia at all of our shared experiences, pride in who we are, humility in where we’ve come from, gratitude for the many blessings, and sadness at what is no more. But more than anything I felt the love that still carries us through. And so today I salute my nieces and nephews for doing what it is that they do—making the world a better place.